We left off a number of terrific seasons either because they were sorta up to expectations (1993, 1994, and 2000) or they came up short in winning any sort of title (2001). There were tough calls (leaving out 1969 was tough, but a 38-12 loss was too much to overlook) all over the place as well (1990 vs. 1991). In choosing these six teams I tried to focus on the level of surprise (that the season created) and the historical significance in making the selections that I did.
Remember starting Monday, the half dozen best non-NCAA Title Gator basketball seasons and the following week we'll examine great seasons other Gator teams had that didn't quite include a national title.
Today is the best football seasons that didn't earn a national title.
#6 -- 1966
#5 -- 1984
#4 -- 1960
#3 -- 1991
#2 -- 1928
#1 -- 1995 ----- This season doesn't exactly fit some of my criteria in terms of element of surprise, for example, but it was without a doubt the best season in this category. The 1995 Gators were simply spectacular across the board and only running into the worst type of match up AND the best team of the last 25 years kept them from winning it all.
The '94 season ended on a down note with the "Choke at Doak" 31-31 tie in Tallahassee and subsequent loss to the Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl. That loss really spurred the Gators in the offseason and I have never been more impressed with a Florida team in the spring and summer. When I spoke to Gator clubs that August I predicted the Gators would win every game, and it's the only time I have ever done that.
Florida opened up with impressive wins over Houston (45-21) and Kentucky (42-7) before a showdown with Tennessee. The Vols did everything right for most of the first half and just before halftime led the Gators 30-14. A late touchdown before halftime gave the Gators some momentum heading into the locker room before all hell broke loose. Florida scored touchdowns on six straight possessions making it 48 unanswered points and a 62-30 Gator lead. It was one of the most impressive runs I've ever seen.
It was just the beginning for this team. Florida posted identical 28-10 wins over Ole Miss and LSU before running up 49 at Auburn (49-38). Then it was off to Athens for another memorable moment. Many will most remember the Gators being the first team to score 50 (52) in Athens, but to me there was a sequence I'll never forget. Danny Wuerffel hit Chris Doering for a touchdown that was waved off for a penalty. He did it again from five yards out, but the Gators were in an illegal formation. Then, for the third time in as many plays they connected again and the Bulldogs were streaming towards the exits.
With the Gators cruising along Steve Spurrier let Eric Kresser play against Northern Illinois and the Gators backup QB threw six touchdown passes in a 58-20 win. Next up was South Carolina on an incredibly cold windy night in Columbia. Wuerffel was never better, shredding the Gamecocks for five first half touchdowns in the way to a 63-7 win. The Gators took care of Vanderbilt 38-7 before Florida State came to town. The Gators had lost three and tied one in their four previous meetings with the ‘Noles but this time the Gators were too good and won it 35-24.
All that stood between Florida and a Fiesta Bowl showdown with top ranked Nebraska was the SEC Title game with Arkansas. Florida posted the most one-sided win in the history of the game (to this day) in routing the Razorbacks 34-3. The game was punctuated by Ben Hanks' 95 yard TD return of an errant lateral, prompting yours truly to exclaim, "Hey Nebraska, the Gators are coming!"
Some took that as taunting, but I was simply starting the hype for a national title game between two unbeaten teams. Nebraska was a bad match up for the Gators with their power running game. That tough matchup became a grotesque mismatch when Florida's top defensive tackles Mark Campbell (knee) and David Barnard (shoulder) were too beat up to be effective. As a result, Tommy Frazier ran for 199 yards and Lawrence Phillips added 165 helping Nebraska to roll to 524 yards on the ground.
Knowing it would be a shootout at best, Spurrier elected to go five wide against the ‘Huskers blitzing defense and it was a disaster. A 10-6 lead after the first quarter disappeared in a 29-0 second period and it just got worse.
The 62-24 loss in Tempe was not as distressing as many would think. The Gators used the loss as motivation for '06 when the Gators and new coordinator Bobby Stoops were dramatically improved on defense. We all know how the '96 season played out.
So there's my list of the six best seasons for Gator football from the historical perspective. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the seasons I chose and the ones I left out.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
Great Teams Without a National Title - Part 6
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